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A DIFFERENT PORTLAND, A DIFFERENT TIME

different portland

image via DG Studios

Today’s city is a different Portland than anyone expected from it’s past.

I walked the hard pavement of NW 14th street toward Burnside, the Mason Dixon Line of Portland.

I crossed against the light, skipping past a new chain tavern, leaving behind a music store with too much exposure through its showroom windows.

I angled left on one of Portland’s streets that serves as proof that city planning was not as sober an activity in the past as it is now.

The street knifes away from the standard right angles defining the north side of Burnside and begins a new sequence on the south side.There’s the derelict building where The Kingsmen recorded Louie, Louie.

It’s a building celebrated for past greatness with a plaque from the local history museum.

A shadow where the plaque was shows the importance of Louie, Louie; someone stole it…again.

I walk the right side of Stark past Jake’s Famous Crawfish where a kitchen guy kneels down and turns a barrel key in a hole near metal doors in the sidewalk.

A freight elevator rises and pushes the doors open.

He pulls an empty cart off the elevator, rolls to the back of a produce delivery van and racks boxes of the day’s salad.

His white uniform shows evidence of his early work hours.

I turn right at the corner of 12th and Stark, away from the county parole office.

The ex-cons park at the meters and mill around the door waiting, smoking, looking hard.

The ex-cons’ babes wait in the cars. If you know what’s good for you, avoid women in cars waiting for their ex-con boyfriends.

It’s a different Portland.

You never know who might be looking for an excuse to shiv someone. Did one of the guys go to prison for assaulting someone who looked at their girlfriend the wrong way?

If you don’t want to be the guy who sends him back to jail, keep your distance.

This particular intersection got more attention than the boarded up, painted, windows on one side revealed.

I used to get coffee where the Columbia Store is downtown. Once it was a food court with a coffee bar trying out a new brew, something called Starbucks, a brand that probably wouldn’t last.

The coffee guy was gay, proudly gay, theatrically gay, from what he said and how he said it.

He was always on, always funny.

His brand of gay was small town gay man who moved to the city to escape the closet. Once he got here, he flew out.

Pierced, tattooed, and hair-do’d every way possible celebrated his freedom, and he knew everything about current gay life in a different Portland.

The daily Oregonian ran a story about a man dying in the building with wooden windows.

My fellow coffee walkers and I talked about it while we ordered some of that new coffee.

“A man in his forties checked in alive and came out dead. In the middle of the day.”

“Who gets a room in the middle of the day. What kind of place rents in the middle of the day.”

The coffee guy slid a cup on the counter.

“A gay club rents rooms after you pay an initiation, and it’s a gay club.”

“Like a nightclub?”

“You’re kidding, right? More like a hot sheet motel like you’ll be using once you’re married ten years.”

“Hey, he seems to know you. After ten years of marriage you turn gay. How long are you married?”

“I’m not married. You know I’m not married.”

“So why wait? The gay club is ready.”

“It’s not that expensive to join, but you’ll be asked to pay a towel fee.”

“Towel fee?”

“Don’t ask.”

“How do you know so much? The story just came out this morning.”

“This is the same building with boarded windows on Stark and a sign on Burnside advertising a 16 oz. Bone Dinner? The dead guy choked to death, or died from doing to0 much to soon.”

“You knew the guy?”

“He wasn’t alone. I know the other guy, the one who didn’t die.”

“OOOOhhhhhh.”

“Now you get it?”

“Got it. See you tomorrow.”

“Yes, you will. And I’ll see you.”

On the way out one of the coffee walkers said, “I think he likes you.”

“Why wouldn’t he, I’m a nice guy. If he liked you, he’d have a problem.”

==

In a busy urban intersection with ex-cons gathering kitty corner from a towel club, a traditional old-money restaurant and hobo grocery on the other corners, lives collide.

“Hey, Rocco, I haven’t heard squat since you got out of the slam. Remember, we promised to stay in touch. You doing good? Cause you’re looking good. How ’bout after we meet the Bull, we hit Club Plywood for old time’s sake, catch an early lunch at Jake’s, and I’ll throw you a carton of smokes from the bum store. Whaddaya say, Rocco?”

It was a different Portland.

About David Gillaspie
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